You sleep outside. You sleep outside for a week, without a tent. You’re not allowed to pitch a real tent, so you set up piping or framing and drape a tarp over it. After the week is up, you can pitch a real tent. And for the next month, you sleep in the tent a few times a week. You do this in January and February, the coldest months of the year. You do this even though you have a bed and walls and heating less than a mile away. Why do you do this? So you can sit in the front of a basketball game.
But one night, when you’re sleeping under that tarp, lying on wooden boards propped up on cinder blocks, packed in next to ten people, one of the guys you’re with starts to feel sick to his stomach, because you’re sleeping under a gross tarp. He tries to fight it off, since getting up would require rousting the whole group. He can’t. Instead, unable to help himself, he rolls over and vomits in the face of the girl next to him. She freaks out, barely able to keep from vomiting herself.
Both leave the group after that night. The rest strive on.
This actually happened to someone I spoke with who “tented” during the Duke University Blue Devils’ 2010 championship season. It happened in Krzyzewskiville, better known as K-Ville, the tent city that exists outside of Cameron Indoor Statdium for a month starting at the beginning of the second semester and ending with the game against the University of North Carolina. You’ve probably heard of K-Ville; it’s become one of the more vaunted aspects of college basketball culture, a demonstration of students’ passion. Those quirky Duke kids!
Here’s the thing about K-Ville, though: it is disgusting. K-Ville is hundreds of 18-21 year-olds sleeping and drinking and having sex in a space smaller than a football field. I went to Duke and graduated in 2011, and though I never tented for a UNC game, I spent plenty of time in K-Ville, because everybody did, K-Ville basically being a huge outdoor nightlife spot. It is littered with empty Busch Light cans and Domino’s boxes, and it’s so muddy that trench foot seems a real possibility. The pizza boxes get stamped into the soil. The grass dies. There is rain and snow and sleet, because it’s outside. Sometimes, tents fall down; I distinctly remember, waiting in line to see then-Davidson junior Stephen Curry play against Duke, watching four students fight to secure their tent during a brutal rainstorm, then that tent blowing away. All of this can be as great as it is bizarre — think of your favorite dive bar. But it’s definitely dive-y.
Another story a former student told me: early in tenting, just after women’s sorority rush had come to an end, his group put three cots in their tent. Six people needed to sleep there, so he stuffed himself partly under one of the cots in the jigsaw puzzle of creating enough space. Turns out, two people then had sex feet away — feet above — his body, something he didn’t find out about until a few days later. (Unsurprisingly, this tent group fell apart after only a couple weeks.)
K-Ville is also a place where people get meningitis. Well, one person, back in 2009. And though Jean Hanson, a registered nurse and the associate director of clinical support services at Duke Student Health, told me yesterday that the meningitis had nothing to do with the student actually being in K-Ville — and noted the student’s 10 tent-mates were preventatively treated with antibiotics — she did say that tenting leads to a bunch of other, more conventional ailments, including upper respiratory illnesses, the flu, and pink eye. This stems from a combination of factors: the cold weather, the challenge of sleeping in a crowded tent, the increased stress from balancing classes at one of the world’s most prestigious universities with the demands of living in a tent in the mud.
Of course, the stress, the proximity to others, and weather are all challenges part of any college student’s life — the mud, not so much — but Hanson said there are a few ways K-Ville could adapt. Her major suggestions would be to shorten the tenting period, improve guidance given to students on their tents — she’s noticed that this year’s tents are particularly bad in design and construction — and eliminate black tenting, which is that period when groups can’t use a tent but are allowed to construct makeshift shelters. The bigger issue for her, and by extension Student Health, is the drinking.
(I asked Vice President for Student Affairs Moneta whether he thought something like K-Ville was consistent with the mission of a university that is and wants to be one of the best in the world, academically. “Duke is a community of communities, and K-Ville is one of those communities that just enriches the broader Duke experience,” he said. He also disagreed that drinking was as much of a problem as it used to be, since the administration started working closely with the students, known as line monitors, who run K-Ville day-to-day: “I think that’s a bit of old history.”)
K-Ville is so much weirder and grimier and more dangerous — and, actually, more fun — than any of the ESPN cameras panning over the tents during commercial breaks in the Duke-UNC game would have you believe. And even if I could never understand wanting to tent for that long, plenty of kids do, and they swear by it — a bunch of people wouldn’t go on the record with me because they didn’t want to make the place look bad. People like it and have fun. But that doesn’t mean I won’t laugh at every CBS or ESPN color segment painting the place as a collection of wacky nerds studying while they wait to get into a basketball game.